Top Ten Tuesday – My Most Anticipated Book Releases for the First Half of 2020

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics. In this first Top Ten Tuesday for the year, participants need to list their most anticipated book releases for the first half of 2020. The upcoming year is full of some very impressive sounding novels, and there are quite a few out there that I am really looking forward to getting my hands on.

I actually managed to pull together a substantial list of books that are coming out between January and June 2020. I was eventually able to narrow it down to my top ten absolute favourite upcoming releases (that have been announced), with a few honourable mentions included. I have already featured the vast majority of these books in some of my Waiting on Wednesday posts, but there are a couple of inclusions I have not had the chance to talk about yet. I like how the list below turned out and I hope you enjoy it.

Honourable Mention:


Song of the Risen God
by R. A. Salvatore – 28 January 2020

Song of the Risen God Cover


The Warsaw Protocol
by Steve Berry – 25 February 2020

The Warsaw Protocol Cover


The Kingdom of Liars
by Nick Martell – 5 May 2020

The Kingdom of Liars Cover


The Return
by Harry Sidebottom – 11 June 2020

The Return Cover.jpg

Harry Sidebottom has been on a fantastic roll over the last couple of years, producing some amazing Roman historical fiction novels which take inspiration from various modern thriller sub-genres. His previous two books, The Last Hour and The Lost Ten have been very impressive, and his new upcoming novel, The Return, is set to mix Scandi-noir elements with the ancient Italian countryside. This sounds like quite an exciting and enjoyable novel, and I am really looking forward to it.

Top Ten List (by release date):


To the Strongest
by Robert Fabbri – 2 January 2020

To the Strongest Cover


Highfire
by Eoin Colfer – 28 January 2020

Highfire Cover 3


False Value
by Ben Aaronovitch – 25 February 2020

False Value Cover

While I was really hoping to read this book last year, its release date was knocked back to February 2020. Still, it is only a short while until this book comes out and I have no doubt it is going to be another five-star novel from Aaronovitch.

Cyber Shogun Revolution by Peter Tieryas – 3 March 2020

Cyber Shogun Revolution


Shorefall
by Robert Jackson Bennett – 21 April 2020

Shorefall Cover


Firefly: The Ghost Machine
by James Lovegrove – 28 April 2020

Firefly The Ghost Machine Cover.jpg

Lovegrove has already produced two amazing Firefly novels in the last year or so, with Big Damn Heroes and The Magnificent Nine both proving to be outstanding reads. This new upcoming Firefly book, The Ghost Machine, sounds extremely compelling, and I look forward to seeing what interesting adventures Lovegrove takes the crew of Serenity on next.

Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy: Chaos Rising by Timothy Zahn – 5 May 2020

Thrawn Ascendancy - Chaos Rising Cover


The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes
by Suzanne Collins – 19 May 2020

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes Cover


Eagle Station
by Dale Brown – 26 May 2020

Eagle Station Cover


The Obsidian Tower
by Melissa Caruso – 2 June 2020

The Obsidian Tower Cover
I think that the above list is a nicely varied and intriguing collection of novels, and I like how I am interested in such a wide variety of different genres and authors. All 10 of the featured books (as well as the honourable mentions) are sure to be excellent, first-rate reads, and I have high hopes for all of them. Let me know which of the books above you are most interested in, as well as which upcoming novels are your most anticipated for the first half of 2020.

Top Ten Tuesday -My Top Books of 2019

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics. This week’s Top Ten Tuesday will be the final instalment of a series of lists I have been doing over the last couple of weeks which highlighted some of the authors and books I have been most impressed with this year. So far, I have looked at my favourite audiobooks of 2019, favourite debut novels of 2019, my favourite new-to-me authors and my favourite pre-2019 books I read this year. I have covered a pretty interesting range of novels in these lists, but as this is the last Top Ten Tuesday of 2019, it is time to showcase my absolute favourite releases of the year.

I think we can all agree that 2019 has been a pretty amazing year for books, with a huge range of incredible releases coming out across the genres. I have had the great pleasure of reading or listening to so many outstanding books this year, and quite a few of this year’s releases have become instant favourites to me. I have to admit that I somewhat struggled to pull this list together, as there were so many books that deserved to be mentioned. Therefore, because I’m a soft touch, and because the quality of the books I read this year is so impressive, I have decided to expand this list out to 20 entries. These 20 books are my absolute favourites from 2019, and I would strongly recommend each and every one of them to anyone who is interested.

There is a going to be a bit of crossover between the below entries and the other lists I mentioned above, as I have featured some of these books before. In particular, several appeared on my Top Ten Favourite Audiobooks of 2019 list, as I enjoyed a great many of my favourite books this year on audiobook. In addition, I also featured some of these entries on my Top Ten Favourite Books from the First Half of 2019, which I ran back in July. As a result, I may have mentioned a couple of these books several times before on my previous lists, so I have kept the descriptions below a little brief. That being said, I managed to include a few books that haven’t made any of the previous lists for several reasons, and I think that this Top 20 list contains a pretty good range of novels that really showcases the different types of books I chose to read this year. I decided to leave off my usual Honourable Mentions section, as the extra 10 entries kind of make it unnecessary. Here is the list, with my ratings for each book included:

Top Ten List (no particular order):

 

Starsight by Brandon Sanderson – Five Stars

Starsight Cover 2


Rage
by Jonathan Maberry – Five Stars

Rage Cover


Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City
by K. J. Parker – Five Stars

Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City Cover


The Night Fire
by Michael Connelly – Five Stars

The Night Fire Cover


The Bone Ships
by R. J. Barker – Five Stars

The Bone Ships Cover


Spaceside
by Michael Mammay – Five Stars

Spaceside Cover


Supernova
by Marissa Meyer – Five Stars

Supernova Cover


Commodus by Simon Turney – Five Stars

Commodus Cover


Red Metal
by Mark Greaney and Hunter Ripley Rawlings – Five Stars

Red Metal Cover 2


War of the Bastards
by Andrew Shvarts – Five Stars

War of the Bastards Cover


Blood & Sugar
by Laura Shepherd-Robinson – Five Stars

Blood & Sugar Cover


Dark Forge
by Miles Cameron – Currently Unrated

Dark Forge Cover

The first entry on this list I haven’t had the chance to write a review for yet. Dark Forge is the sequel to 2018’s Cold Iron, which I quite enjoyed earlier in the year, and this second book is a gripping and exciting read. I am probably going to give this book a full five stars in the future; it’s a fantastic novel to check out.

Tiamat’s Wrath by James S. A. Corey – Five Stars

Tiamat's Wrath Cover


Recursion
by Blake Crouch – Currently Unrated

Recursion Cover

Another really good book that I need to hurry up and write a review for. Recursion is a clever and compelling read that I really enjoyed, and I am planning to rate it five out of five stars.

The Unbound Empire by Melissa Caruso – Five Stars

The Unbound Empire Cover (WoW)


Howling Dark
by Christopher Ruocchio – Five Stars

Howling Dark Cover


Usagi Yojimbo – Vol 33: The Hidden
by Stan Sakai – Five Stars

Usagi Yojimbo The Hidden Cover


A Little Hatred
by Joe Abercrombie – Currently Unrated

A Little Hatred Cover

Another currently unrated novel that I will probably end up giving five stars to. A Little Hatred is actually the book I am currently listening to, so I have not had a chance to write anything about it yet. That being said, I am over two-thirds of the way through it at the moment and it is clearly an outstanding novel which also does a fantastic job of continuing Abercrombie’s entertaining The First Law series.

Thrawn: Treason by Timothy Zahn – 4.5 Stars

Thrawn Treason Cover

I had to include at least one Star Wars book on this list, and Treason is easily my favourite Star Wars book of 2019. I cannot wait for Zahn’s next book, Thrawn Ascendancy: Chaos Rising, which should be pretty epic.

God of Broken Things by Cameron Johnston – 4.75 Stars

god of broken things cover

 

Well that’s my 20 most-favourite books of 2019. It turned out to be quite a good list in the end, and I am very glad that I was able to highlight so many fantastic books. 2020 is also set to be another excellent year for amazing reads, and I will be examining some of my most anticipated books for the first half of the year next week. In the meantime, let me know what your favourite books of 2019 are in the comments below, and make sure you all have a happy New Years.

Waiting on Wednesday – The Obsidian Tower by Melissa Caruso

Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy.  I run this segment in conjunction with the Can’t-Wait Wednesday meme that is currently running at Wishful Endings. Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them. For this week I look at The Obsidian Tower, the first book in the exciting new upcoming series from Melissa Caruso, set in the same universe as her outstanding Swords and Fire series.

The Obsidian Tower Cover.jpg

The Swords and Fire series was an amazing debut trilogy from Caruso that in my opinion featured some of the best fantasy novels of the past three years. The Swords and Fire series is set on the continent of Eruvia and follows the battles and adventures of mages and politicians from the two nations on the continent, the Serene Empire and Vaskandar, and features some cool storylines and inventive magical elements. Made up of three excellent novels, The Tethered Mage, The Defiant Heir and The Unbound Empire, this was a great series, and I previously awarded all three of these novels a full five-star rating.

As a result, I have been eagerly awaiting the next body of work from Caruso and was excited when I saw that The Obsidian Tower was announced for mid-2020, especially as it appears that it will be set in the same universe as the Swords and Fire series. The Obsidian Tower is the first book in a new series, The Gate of Secrets, and a plot synopsis and a fantastic book cover have already been released.

Goodreads Synopsis:

The mage-marked granddaughter of a ruler of Vaskandar, Ryx was destined for power and prestige at the top of Vaskandran society. But her magic is broken; all she can do is uncontrollably drain the life from everything she touches, and Vaskandar has no place for a mage with unusable powers.

Then, one night, two terrible accidents befall her: Ryx accidentally kills a visiting dignitary in self-defense, activating a mysterious magical artifact sealed in an ancient tower in the heart of her family’s castle.

Ryx flees, seeking a solution to her deadly magic. She falls in with a group of unlikely magical experts investigating the disturbance in Vaskandar—and Ryx realizes that her family is in danger and her domain is at stake. She and her new colleagues must return to the family stronghold to take control of the artifact that everyone wants to claim—before it destroys the world.

After reading this synopsis, there are quite a few things about The Obsidian Tower that I am looking forward to. Not only does it look like Caruso will continue to explore the awesome and creative world that she introduced in her previous body of work, but it looks like she will spend more time examining the intriguing magical nation of Vaskandar. The scenes set in harsh Vaskandar were some of the best parts of The Defiant Heir and The Unbound Empire, and I look forward to seeing it as the central location for this new series. It will also be cool to see it from the perspective of a character who has spent their life there, rather than an outsider from the Serene Empire, like the protagonists and point-of-view character from the original trilogy.

It will also be interesting to see where this book falls within the chronology of the first trilogy of books. I assume that it is going to be set at some point after the events of the Swords and Fire trilogy, and it will be cool to see if it features any of the characters from the original series and shows. I personally really hope that Caruso includes the enigmatic Crow Lord, a Vaskandran Witch Lord with his own agenda, who could appear even if this book is set in the past, as he and the other Witch Lord characters are near immortal.

I am very much looking forward to this new book from Caruso. Based upon how awesome her first series was, I am sure that The Obsidian Tower is going to be another incredible and enjoyable read. I am especially happy that she will continue to be exploring the world first introduced in the epic Swords and Fire series and I am exceedingly confident that this is going to another excellent novel.

Top Ten Tuesday – Auto-Buy Authors

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics. This week’s topic is to list my top ten auto-buy authors, that is the top ten authors whose latest books I will always buy no matter what.

This was a pretty cool topic to explore. There are a number of amazing authors out there whose books I will generally try to get each year due to how much I enjoyed their previous works. However, there are a few authors whose books I will automatically buy the moment they come out, many of whom I have been fans of for years. I managed to list my top ten of these authors, with a couple of honourable mentions thrown in as well. Fair warning: this top ten list features quite a large number of historical fiction authors. This is mainly because I previously focused solely on historical fiction for quite a long period of time and have only recently started getting into reviewing other genres such as science fiction or thrillers and have yet to finalise any auto-buy authors in these genres. I have added in a few fantasy authors, mostly because I have been reading these guys since I was fairly young, and their work is still incredibly impressive. Check out my list below:

Honourable Mentions:

 

Conn Iggulden

THe Falcon of Sparta Cover

One of the top authors of historical fiction, Iggulden has written some compelling books, set in some intriguing historical periods. His latest book, for example, The Falcon of Sparta, was pretty epic and focussed on an amazing event from history.

Mellissa Caruso

The Unbound Empire Cover (WoW)

This author’s debut series, the Swords and Fire trilogy, is just outstanding, and I will be adding all of her future books to the top of my reading list. Make sure to check out all the books in this series, including The Tethered Mage, The Defiant Heir and The Unbound Empire.

Harry Sidebottom

The Last Hour Cover

An author who focuses on Roman history, Sidebottom has recently started blending his books with the thriller genre, creating some intriguing reads, such as his 2018 release, The Last Hour. I currently have his latest book, The Lost Ten, on my shelf and cannot wait to read it.

Top Ten List (No Particular Order):

 

Terry Pratchett

The author of the Discworld series and the master of combining fantasy elements with comedic stories. Before he passed away, I could always expect to receive the latest Terry Pratchett book as a Christmas gift every single year, and I would often finish it off by the end of Christmas day. Since his death in 2015, I haven’t really bought any of his novels, although I did manage to obtain them all on audiobook, which I relisten to all the time. As Pratchett is and probably always will be my favourite author of all time, I had to include him on this list, especially as he was my original auto-buy author

Moving PIcture Cover

The Author’s Latest Book I bought/read:

Raising Steam was the last one of Pratchett’s books I received, while I recently reread Moving Pictures before I reviewed it earlier this year.

What is the Next Book from this Author that I will Auto-buy?

Maybe a nice copy of Good Omens, since I really enjoyed the show. I am planning to reread Pyramids next, as I am hoping to review it on the blog at some point.

Simon Scarrow

Simon Scarrow has to be one of my favourite historical fiction authors at the moment. His Eagles of the Empire series is one of the best Roman historical fiction series at the moment, and he has also produced a number of other books, including his Roman Arena and Invader novella series with T. J. Andrews, as well as his incredibly detailed Wellington and Napoleon Quartet. I have read all 17 of the books in his Eagles of the Empire series and am eagerly anticipating the 18th book, which will be out later this year. This has to be one of my favourite historical fiction series at the moment, and I will pretty much grab anything written by Scarrow as a result.

the blood of rome cover

The Author’s Latest Book I bought/read:

The Blood of Rome (2018)

What is the Next Book from this Author that I will Auto-buy?

Either the 18th book of the Eagles of the Empire series, Traitors of the Empire (out 14 November 2019), or Pirata (out 9 July 2019), the collected edition of the Pirata short stories that was recently released.

C. J. Samson

In my mind, the best author of historical murder mysteries at the moment has to be C. J. Samson. His Matthew Shardlake series is just incredible, as each book contains an extremely clever and detailed murder mystery that perfectly utilises the author’s Tudor England setting to tell a compelling story. Every one of his books generally becomes the best historical fiction releases of the year and will often be my favourite overall book of the year as well. As a result, each of Samson’s books are extremely high on my to-read list, and it’s such a shame there is usually a big gap between each of his books.

Tombland Cover

The Author’s Latest Book I bought/read:

Tombland (2018), which not only got a five-star review from me, but which made my Top Ten Reads of 2018 list.

What is the Next Book from this Author that I will Auto-buy?

Hopefully the eighth book in the Matthew Shardlake series, although I may have to wait till 2022 for it to come out. I have no doubt it will be worth it, though.

Raymond E. Feist

Raymond E. Feist is one of the best fantasy authors in the world today. His iconic Riftwar Cycle, which ran for nearly 30 years, is considered one of the greatest fantasy series in the world today and features some incredible books. Feist’s Talon of the Silver Hawk was one of the first fantasy books I ever read, and after falling in love with it I went back and read every single previous book he wrote, starting with Magician and moving onto books such as the epic Empire trilogy he wrote with Jenny Wurst. Without a doubt, Feist is one of my favourite authors of all time and I eagerly grab every new book he releases, including the books in his new series, The Firemane Saga, which started last year.

King of Ashes Cover

The Author’s Latest Book I bought/read:

King of Ashes (2018)

What is the Next Book from this Author that I will Auto-buy?

The Firemane Saga book 2 – (I believe it will be called Queen of Storms)


Lindsey Davis

Lindsey Davis is probably the most prominent authors of the ancient history murder mystery. Her iconic Falco series, which ran for 20 books, placed a character styled after a modern private investigator in ancient Rome, resulting in some entertaining and enjoyable reads. I first started reading the sequel series to Falco books, the Flavia Albia series, back in 2013 and haven’t looked back. Her books are a heck of a lot of fun, and I especially loved the fifth and sixth books in the series, The Third Nero and Pandora’s Boy, which had some extremely epic comedy moments. These Flavia Albia books are a great highlight of my April reading schedule, and I fully plan to keep buying them as long as Davis continues to write them.

a capitol death cover

The Author’s Latest Book I bought/read:

A Capitol Death (2019) – review to follow soon.

What is the Next Book from this Author that I will Auto-buy?

The Grove of the Caesars (April 2020)


Stan Sakai

I am a massive fan of many examples of comic books and magna, and I have had the pleasure of reading some amazing series from a variety of different publishers. However, the comic series that I look forward to the most each year is the Usagi Yojimbo series by Stan Sakai. There is just something about this series I cannot help but love, and I currently own all 32 volumes of the series, as well as some of the associated books. Sakai’s works are a must-get for me and he easily makes this list.

Usagi Yojimbo Mysteries Cover

The Author’s Latest Book I bought/read:

Usagi Yojimbo, Vol 32: Mysteries (2018)

What is the Next Book from this Author that I will Auto-buy?

Usagi Yojimbo, Vol 33: The Hidden (2019). I have already ordered this book and it is hopefully on its way.

Robert Fabbri

For the last few years, Robert Fabbri’s debut body of books, the Vespasian series, has been an extremely entertaining highlight of my reading year. The author did an amazing job of combining a compelling examination of the history of one of the most influential Roman Emperors with some of the wild and extreme stories of Roman excess and insanity. The end result is an amazing series of books that I absolutely devour when I get my hands of them. Fabbri is currently working on a new series of books, The Alexander Legacies, which I am really looking forward to, and I imagine I will grab every book in this future series.

Emperor of Rome Cover

The Author’s Latest Book I bought/read:

Emperor of Rome (2019). This book recently made my Top Ten Favourite Books from the First Half of 2019 list and is a heck of a lot of fun.

What is the Next Book from this Author that I will Auto-buy?

The Alexander Legacies – Book 1 (2020)


Ken Follett

Ken Follett is an extremely talented author who has been writing since the 1970s. While he was initially known for his clever thrillers, I am a fan of his incredible pieces of historical fiction. Follett has written some truly amazing pieces of historical fiction including his extraordinary book, The Pillars of the Earth. I was first introduced to Follett’s books with his epic Century trilogy, and honestly all I needed to do was read one of his massive books to fall in love with this author’s work. No one blends life stories of fictional characters with iconic moments of history, and I desperately waiting for Follett’s next piece of work

A Column of Fire Cover.png

The Author’s Latest Book I bought/read:

A Column of Fire (2017)

What is the Next Book from this Author that I will Auto-buy?

Unknown – Apparently a prequel to The Pillars of the Earth

R. A. Salvatore

This is another author I would consider to be one of the top fantasy authors in the world today. Few authors have the sustainability and imagination of R. A. Salvatore, and I have been a massive fan of his for years. After powering through his The Icewind Dale trilogy, the series I really fell in love with was his prequel series, The Dark Elf trilogy. The way that he built up the history of his most iconic characters was just outstanding and made me a fan for life. I have since bought or read every single Salvatore book set in the Forgotten Realms, including The Cleric Quintet and all the books featuring Drizzt Do’Urden, including the latest book Timeless, and will continue to read them as long as Salvatore rights about the character. I have also started getting into his books set in the Corona universe and have read the first two books in The Coven series, which started last year with Child of a Mad God.

Reckoning of Fallen Gods Cover

The Author’s Latest Book I bought/read:

Reckoning of Fallen Gods (2019)

What is the Next Book from this Author that I will Auto-buy?

Boundless (2019)


Bernard Cornwell

The final author to feature in this list is the author I consider to be at the top of the historical fiction genre, Bernard Cornwell. With over 55 historical fiction novels on his resume, Cornwell has written some incredible pieces of work, and I have been a huge fan of his for years. The first Cornwell books I read were part of The Last Kingdom series, and I quickly graduated to other series, such as The Grail Quest novels. I really love how Cornwell can tell a huge number of different stories from across the historical periods, whether he looks at prehistoric adventures in Stonehenge, battles in America with The Fort or setting an intriguing piece of crime fiction amongst the plays of Shakespeare in Fools and Mortals. His body of work is just amazing and I cannot wait to check out what he writes next.

War of the Wolf Cover

The Author’s Latest Book I bought/read:

War of the Wolf (2018)

What is the Next Book from this Author that I will Auto-buy?

Unknown

 

I hope you enjoyed my list. Are any of the authors featured within on your auto-buy author list? Let me know if the comments below or link through your auto-buy authors so I can check them out.

Top Ten Tuesday – My Favourite Books from the First Half of 2019

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics. The official topic for this week was childhood favourites; however, as this is the first week of July, I thought I would instead do a quick look back at my top ten favourite books from the first half of 2019.

I have had an amazing time this year reading some outstanding books, so I had a bit of a hard time choosing books for this list, but I did eventually manage to whittle it down to 10 books (with a few honourable mentions thrown in). I decided to only include books that were published between 1 January 2019 and 30 June 2019, which helped limit the list a bit for me. While I have reviewed most of these books on the blog or in The Canberra Weekly, there were one or two which I am currently in the process of reviewing and will hopefully go up soon. Check out my list below:

Honourable Mentions:

Emperor of Rome by Robert Fabbri – 4.5 stars

Emperor of Rome Cover


Reckoning of Fallen Gods
by R. A. Salvatore – 4.5 stars

Reckoning of Fallen Gods Cover

Recursion by Blake Crouch

Recursion Cover

I literally only finished this last night, but it was an outstanding and captivating read and I’m hoping to write up a review for it soon.

Firefly: The Magnificent Nine by James Lovegrove – 4.5 stars

Firefly The Magnificent Nine Cover

Top Ten List (no particular order):

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon – 5 Stars

The Priory of the Orange Tree Cover.jpg

I only wrote a short review for this book, but it was a pretty epic novel that I really enjoyed and is easily one of the best books of 2019 so far.

Aurora Rising by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff – 5 stars

Aurora Rising Cover

Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City by K. J. Parker – 5 stars

Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City Cover

War of the Bastards by Andrew Shvarts – 5 stars

9781484767641

Tiamat’s Wrath by James S. A. Corey

Tiamat's Wrath Cover

I listened to this one a couple of months ago and absolutely loved it. I still need to get a review up for it but it was an amazing book.

Blood & Sugar by Laura Shepherd-Robinson – 5 stars

Blood & Sugar Cover

The Unbound Empire by Melissa Caruso – 5 stars

The Unbound Empire Cover (WoW)

Star Wars: Master and Apprentice by Claudia Gray – 4.75 stars

Master & Apprentice Cover

God of Broken Things by Cameron Johnston – 4.75 stars

god of broken things cover

Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Vol. 1: High School is Hell by Jordie Bellaire and
Dan Mora – 4.5 stars

Buffy The Vampire Slayer - High School is Hell Cover
I hope you enjoyed this list and the books I have chosen. Several of these books are likely to appear in any future Top Ten Reads of 2019 list that I do, but I really think that some of the books coming out in the next six months have the potential to make the top ten. Let me know which books were your favourite releases for the first half of 2019.

The Unbound Empire by Melissa Caruso

The Unbound Empire Cover (WoW)

Publisher: Orbit (Trade Paperback – 25 April 2019)

Series: Swords and Fire – Book 3

Length: 508 pages

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

One of the fast-rising authors of fantasy fiction, Melissa Caruso, brings her outstanding debut series to an end with the third book in the Swords and Fire trilogy, The Unbound Empire.

It is always a bittersweet moment when a great book series comes to an end. For the last two years, the Swords and Fire trilogy has been one of my favourite new fantasy series due to its excellent combination of characters, story, intrigue, fantasy elements and world building. I absolutely loved the first book in the series, The Tethered Mage, and I felt that Caruso did an excellent job following this up with The Defiant Heir, which made my Top Ten Reads For 2018 list and my Top Ten Books I Loved with Fewer than 2,000 Ratings on Goodreads list. As a result, I have been eagerly waiting for The Unbound Empire for the last year, and it even featured in my very first Waiting on Wednesday post.

The Swords and Fire series is set on the continent of Eruvia, which is made up of two great nations, the Serene Empire of Raverra and the loosely collected states of Vaskandar. The Serene Empire is the home of our protagonists, and is a land where magic is controlled by the government, led by the Doge and the Council of Nine. All mages who are identified as having enough power are conscripted into the army as a Falcon. Each Falcon is bound to a non-magical handler, a Falconer, who is entrusted to control and protect their Falcon. One such Falconer is Lady Amalia Cornaro, heir to one of the most powerful families in Raverra and future member of the Council of Nine. While the nobility is usually forbidden from becoming Falconers, desperate circumstances forced Amalia to be bound to the powerful and rebellious fire warlock Zaira.

Vaskandar, on the other hand, is a far wilder nation, ruled by the Witch Lords, magicians whose powerful vivomancy literally flows through their land, making them part of everyone and everything in their domain. War is always looming between these two nations, and while Vaskandar as a nation has decided to remain out of the most recent conflict, nothing can stop an individual Witch Lord from attacking. The cruel and ambitious Witch Lord Ruven, the Skinwitch, has long wanted to conquer and rule over The Serene Empire. His most recent ambitions have been stymied by the combined actions of Amalia and Zaira, who managed to stop his plan to unleash a destructive volcano, although it came at great cost to Amalia.

However, Ruven is far from done and is determined to gain new land, either in the Serene Empire or in the domains of the other Witch Lords. Launching a series of attacks against the Empire’s capital, Raverra, as well as several outlying holdings, with a range of horrifying strategies, Ruven is able to cause significant damage. But while he launches his attacks, he is also trying to recruit Amalia to his cause by any means necessary, as her unique heritage gives her the ability to usurp the domains of other Witch Lords. As Amalia and Zaira race to counter Ruven’s actions, Amalia finds herself once again torn between love, duty and friendship, as the responsibilities of her office clash with the friendships she has formed. As Amalia struggles to maintain her humanity in the heat of war, Ruven’s greatest cruelty might be the thing that finally breaks her and leads to the fall of the Serene Empire.

Caruso once again knocks it out of the park with The Unbound Empire, creating a satisfying conclusion to her series that still contains her trademark storytelling ability and character work. The final book in the Swords and Fire trilogy does a great job utilising the previous entries of the series and also attempts to tie up all of the existing loose storylines and plot points. The Unbound Empire is filled with some really emotional storylines, a number of powerful magical action sequences and several surprising plot developments. The end result is another five-star book from Caruso that I powered through in quite a short period.

At the heart of this book lies the series’ main two characters, the narrator and point-of-view character, Amalia, and the fire warlock Zaira. The challenging and evolving relationship between the initially sheltered Falconer and the rebellious and infinitely destructive Falcon has always been a major part of this series. While the two characters have been establishing a better relationship with each book, it was great to see the two of them becoming even closer in this book and helping each other deal with some major issues. I also liked how both characters’ stories come full circle in this book, as Amalia becomes more and more like her mother, while Zaira finally confronts a number of her personal demons and for once starts to consider having a future. The author’s depiction of the doubt and guilt that Amalia is feeling after the events of the last book forced her to kill her cousin added some extra emotional depth to the story, and I liked the inclusion of such a realistic emotional reaction. The character arcs for the two main characters were incredible, and it was great to see how much they had evolved over the course of the trilogy.

Caruso has also developed a number of great side characters for this series, and she continues to expertly utilise them in this final book. The main two side characters of The Unbound Empire were Amalia’s love interests: Captain Marcello of the Serene Empire; and the Witch Lord Kathe, known as the Crow Lord. Throughout the course of the book, Amalia is caught between them; while she loves Marcello, her position makes a relationship impossible, and Kathe presents a more suitable match. Marcello’s storyline in this book is pretty significant, and there are some substantial and emotive changes to his character that really helped make The Unbound Empire extra compelling. I also really liked the deeper dive into Kathe’s personality and backstory, as well as the natural strengthening of the relationship between Amalia and Kathe. Thankfully the book’s love triangle aspect wasn’t too over-the-top or filled with insufferable toxic jealousy, as both the men understand the difficult position Amalia is in. The arc of Zaira’s love interest, Terika, is really sweet, and I liked how she continues to have a positive effect of Zaira’s personality. Other side characters, such as the Amelia’s powerful and unflappable mother; the surprisingly lethal Cornaro servant, Ciardha; and Marcello’s eccentric artificer sister, Istrella, all shine through in this book, and all of them add quite a lot to this book’s story.

No great fantasy story would be complete without a despicable antagonist threatening the heroes, and luckily this book has a truly evil and threatening villain. The Witch Lord Ruven is a powerful Skinwitch, a person with the ability to control and alter other creatures just by touching him. Not only is this power by itself pretty horrifying but Ruven uses it in some fairly novel and evil ways, unleashing all manner of horrors upon the protagonists. I thought that Ruven had some of the best magical powers in the entire series, and his abilities were really fun to see in this book. Caruso also tried to humanise the character in places throughout this book, which was a nice touch and added some new depth to the story, although he does mostly come off as utterly irredeemable. Overall, I feel that Ruven was an excellent villain and his antagonism really helped make this book and the series as a whole.

I have always loved the complex fantasy world and elements that the author came up with for this series. The various forms of magic and resulting rules that form the backbone of this book are very imaginative, and I loved how Caruso was able to utilise them in her story. There are some amazing new versions of the magic and fantasy elements from the previous two books included in The Unbound Empire, as well as some new locations to explore. While the world building is not as intense as the first two books in the trilogy, Caruso still offers some great new elements, and I had a lot of fun seeing these extra expansions to the universe. Hopefully Caruso will come back to this world at some point in the future, as I had a lot of fun there over the course of the series.

The Unbound Empire was another incredible piece of fantasy fiction from author Melissa Caruso that expertly wraps up her debut trilogy. This has got to be one of the best debut fantasy trilogies I have had the pleasure of reading, and it has been a lot of fun absorbing the excellent tales of magic, adventure and intrigue that Caruso has woven over the last two years. I have really loved the Swords and Fire trilogy, and while I am sad to see it go, I am excited to see where Caruso goes next as this author has amazing potential for the future. I highly recommend each and every book in the series and encourage you to get wrapped up in the magic and characters of this series if you have not had a chance to read it.